Human beings are extraordinarily horny creatures. You have to search the animal kingdom far and wide to find another species which likes to bang as much as humans do. Because of this extreme level of horniess practically unique to Homo sapiens, sex tends to slip into our media, which is very much the case with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The lot of its female cast don skimpy outfits for no reason other than just because, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with sexy ladies being sexy ladies, the problem with XC2, like any other IP which mishandles its tropes, is that it doesn’t know how to use its sexy ladies correctly.
Sex is a very real, occasionally enjoyable, and frequently controversial thing in the world, but when faced with the trouble of including it into a narrative, a writer can think of it like they would any other trope. You can play sex straight by having two characters bumping uglies, and you can parody it by drawing a hentai. And just as you wouldn’t have the lead detective of a traditional murder mystery suss out the killer with the power of friendship, you wouldn’t have Bob find the solution to defeating his archnemisis by calling timeout so that he can boink his girlfriend.
It’s important to consider the context of a work or how that context will change when including any new element, sex included. In the lot of manga and anime, a dude will go red as a cockscomb if he catches the blurriest glimpse of panties, but in an Inio Asano work, entire scenes will dedicate themselves to characters going at it or beating their meat. The result the latter has is that it normalizes sexual activity in his stories, so a panel showing the strangely detailed silhouette of Punpun’s junk isn’t all that shell-shocking. Likewise, touching on sexual material while paying no mind to the topic beforehand can add a human quality to a character, such as what Hyouka does during its festival arc. Oreki has something Chitanda wants, but he refuses to give it up. When she leans forward to grab it, she accidentally exposes the tiniest sliver of cleavage, and this flusters him. This one moment has a twofold effect: it emphasizes his attraction to her and reminds the audience that he’s a teenage boy, and teenage boys go wild over the smallest strip of visible skin.
Deadly to a teenage boy’s concentration.
There’re two problems with XC2’s inclusion of sexual content—not already covered in loving detail by this assumedly handsome chap—and the first is that its racy outfits don’t have a proper place in the game. Looking at gameplay clips and a story synopsis, a stranger to XC2 would learn it’s a fantasy game about one boy trying to find paradise before all the giant animals civilization’s living on kick the bucket, with themes of memories and identity, atonement, and the power of friendship, and nary the mention of Rex looking to Smash all night. But then if that stranger glimpsed the moth-eaten outfits most of the female Blades don, they’ll ask what’s up with that, and the only response I’ll have is, “Uuummm…Elysium? That’s what’s up?”
Whether sex has a place at all in XC2 is up for debate. Personally, I don’t think anything would feel missing if the female Blades weren’t sexualized the way they are, as the game isn’t about sexual discovery, curiosity, or anything even remotely related. The closest it would come to referencing sex would be Rex’s romance with Pyra/Mythra, but a.) that’s explored only so much and b.) romance can be broached without a mention to sex. A real-world romance is practically guaranteed to include sex at some point or another, but with stories, framing’s the rule. A frame can only hold so much within its boundaries, so a creator has to be picky about what goes in. If a painter is depicting the gruesome reality of war, it doesn’t make sense for him to paint in Pacman, even if he is a huge fan of the game.
While I would likely strip XC2 of its sexual content, given the editorial chance, I’m also of the mind that sex can add some interesting and noteworthy content if handled with a level head and attentive fingers. Let’s make up our own sexy babe Blade. We’ll call her Alice, and her deal is that she’s curious to know what happens if a Blade and a Driver do the baby-making. Without doing anything which would give the game an M rating, she goes about trying to solve that mystery. She reads books, asks passing Drivers if they’ve done the dirty with their Blade, tries coaxing Zeke and Rex into her fun-time experiment, and all that saxy jazz. Eventually, she learns the truth: since Blades are borne from Titans and there’s therefore no need to reproduce, all Blades are sterile.
I’ll leave the details of how this plays out to your imagination, but a sidequest like this is an example of how a story can explore and express sex in a meaningful manner, which solves the second problem with XC2’s sexual content. It’s brought up in-game that Blades and Drivers sometimes wed, but details beyond that are sold out, and Alice’s discovery adds a new detail to the world, as nonessential as it might be to the plot at large. But the advantage of sidequests like this is that they can reflect the relationships of the main characters without needing to set aside narrative real estate for such explorations. Put another way, we’ll have an answer as to whether there’ll be a babies ever after for Rex and Pyra/Mythra.
While simple in concept, sex ultimately is a personal act, and the sex a person has or doesn’t have can deeply impact their identity, self-esteem, and so forth. Raunchy manga like Saki the Succubus Hungers Tonight written, drawn, and read to satisfy sexual desires are a-okay. That’s about as straightforward as an author can get in depicting sex. But O Maidens in Your Savage Season is more complex, being about girls going through puberty and coming to learn, understand, and accept a world and a life where sex factors in greater, or differently, than one might expect or hope for. However you portray sex, it’s imperative to keep in mind that your characters are having sex for a reason, and whatever that reason is, it needs to be portrayed with the right framing. And if sex isn’t on the minds of any of the characters, it doesn’t need to be portrayed at all, which is where XC2 goes awry. All of its sexual content is rammed in without a second thought given to how it integrates with everything around it. Pyra urges modesty during one sidequest yet has most of her back exposed and struts about in the world’s shortest booty shorts. In another scene, Mythra complains about Rex staring at her cleavage, and this is despite the fact that anyone would stare if they woke up with a pair of unidentified tits glaring them in the face.
It’s a serious clash between what the game’s claiming and how it’s acting. Imagine if halfway into your guided tour of this richly fantastical world you had the option of going up to a food stand and buying Skittles and a Big Mac. When characters don’t practice what they preach with no sense of irony, as Pyra and Mythra do, it makes you wonder if they aren’t diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.
This all said and done, it still begs the question on why there’s sexual content haphazardly inserted into XC2. That right there’s the million dollar question, and the only answer I can come up with is speculative. My bet is that the character artists just wanted to draw half-naked ladies, and whoever okayed the designs didn’t stop to consider what half-naked ladies adds to XC2’s world, aside from half-naked ladies and players like me confused about why there’re so many half-naked ladies running amuck.
In the end, it doesn’t matter the reasons why these decisions were made, just that these decisions were made poorly, for a plethora of reasons said and unsaid in these paragraphs. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 wants to acknowledge sex, but it doesn’t want to flirt with it. I abhor Mythra’s outfit with a passion, but if the game had leaned into that style by making Mythra a sexually liberal woman who enjoys some masculine company on Almathatober nights, I’d come to understand why she dresses like that. I’d still roll my eyes at her outfit, but I’d understand it.
Sex is something deserving of exploration and celebration, but just like the death of a character or the invention of a magic system, it needs to belong. In fact, I daresay that sex in stories should be treated like sex in real life. It can be precious, or it can be a fun activity. Sometimes, you might need to plan out when you’re doing it, and sometimes, it might feel right to do it while out on a mountainside hike. Enjoy it however, but remember that you’ll need to commit to the act, respect your partner, and make sure you aren’t doing it in a place where everybody’ll give you the stink eye.